Army Corps speeds La. barrier island permitting
Updated 9:55 p.m.
By Juliet Eilperin
The massive barrier island restoration envisioned by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and Plaquemines Parish President William "Billy" Nungesser took a step closer to reality Thursday, as the Army Corps of Engineers prepared to close a 24-hour comment period during which agencies could voice any objections to the plan.
Late Wednesday, according to Corps spokesman Gene Pawlik, other federal agencies were informed that they have until "sometime this evening" to provide comments on whether Louisiana can dredge sand to construct 86 miles of barrier reef to protect the state's marshes and coast. "We're looking for any points of concern an agency might have," Pawlik said.
Plaquemines Parish came up with the idea of rebuilding the region's barrier islands two years ago as part of its coastal restoration plan, but the threat of oil leaking off the downed Deepwater Horizon rig has provided new impetus for the project.
"The Corps thinks this is such a great idea they are doing everything they can to try to expedite all permitting," said P.J. Hahn, the parish's director of coastal zone management.
Nungesser said he and other local leaders are working with officials from the administration and BP to start dredging as soon as possible, although they do not yet have final approval.
"This has to happen quickly. This oil is now dropping below the surface and coming ashore with no warning," Nungesser said.
Nungesser had a one-on-one meeting with BP chief executive Tony Hayward in Venice Thursday, presenting what is now called "the Barrier Island Oil Intrusion Defense Plan."
Nungesser and Hahn have identified 12 dredges to do the work. Hahn said the that in their meetings with both senior BP and Obama administration officials to discuss the plan, "Everybody's got a few little things to massage out of it. There's no dealbreaker."
If BP is not willing to finance the dredging, Hahn added, parish authorities will see if the Coast Guard can commission the operation as part of the response effort.
But Jeremy Symons, senior vice president for the National Wildlife Federation, said the idea needs more vetting before going forward, especially given the massive amount of chemical dispersants that response teams have sprayed over the water in an effort to break up the oil slick.
"This is too important a decision to be done in the dark of night," Symons said. "They need to share with the public what they know about the impacts, and provide an opportunity for a rapid public comment."
Hahn said the project would not pose any environmental risks because it will "recapture" sand that's moved offshore "and bring it back. The only thing that's kept this from moving forward is money."
Juliet Eilperin| May 13, 2010; 9:55 PM ET Save & Share:
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